Winter Hike to Sky Pond
On New Year's Eve Alex and I finally tackled a hike that we have wanted to do for over a year and a half, and we couldn't have done it without the help of Chelsea (who joined me on my trip to Blue Lakes in October!) Sky Pond has been eluding us since the summer of 2015. We had planned on hiking it on our trip to Rocky Mountain National Park over Labor Day weekend, but I severely underestimated how strenuous hiking in the park would be so we never even set foot on the trail. We returned to Rocky Mountain National Park in March 2016 to attempt the hike again. On the second attempt we made it to Loch Vale but were turned around by a winter storm. This spot is actually where we met Chelsea! We were on the shores of Loch Vale, debating on whether we should turn around when we saw someone heading from the direction of Sky Pond. It was Chelsea! She informed us she made it to Sky Pond and it was well worth the hike! She continued on and we stayed at The Loch. We eventually decided the weather was too poor to continue on and reluctantly, we turned back. When Alex and I settled on Colorado for a New Year's trip I knew we would have to attempt Sky Pond again and I kept my fingers crossed for fairer weather. As the trip neared I kept a close watch on the forecast. It looked like we were going to have a sunny day, and we did!
The round-trip hike to Sky Pond is 10 miles and it begins at the Glacier Gorge trailhead. We knew the parking lot was small from our last trip so we arrived early (at around 9:30am) and were able to snag one of the last remaining spots. We immediately noticed how windy it was. The wind was shaking our rental car and people in the parking lot were clearly struggling against strong gusts. We geared up, doing our best to keep the wind from blowing anything away and hit the trail by 10. The trail was well-traveled and easy to follow. Thankfully, the cover of the trees also protected us from most of the wind, and it didn't take long for all of us to need a break to shed a few layers.
At 2.8 miles we reached Loch Vale, which was our final stopping point during last year's attempt. This year's weather was a complete 180 from the dark skies and snowstorms we were presented with last year. It was just as windy though! Out of the protection of the forest we were once again buffeted by the wind. We decided to hurry across the lake to make it back into the forest.
It seemed that most people were ending their hike at Loch Vale so we continued on with no other company.
The trail past Loch Vale was not nearly as well-traveled as the trail leading to Loch Vale and it wasn't long before all three of us were post-holing so we decided to switch out our microspikes for snowshoes.
As we were making our way up the trail we ran into two hikers heading down. We asked them if they made it to Sky Pond and they told us they hadn't. They said after a "nearly vertical hike" and unbelievably strong winds at Lake of Glass they turned around. Their recount of the final portion of the hike didn't bode well for us but we carried on.
Up until the final quarter of a mile we made incredible time. It felt like we were cruising, especially considering the altitude, but then we got to the frozen waterfall, the "nearly vertical hike" our trail friends had just warned us about, we were at a standstill. I had read a few accounts online that had noted this waterfall was "sketchy", but none of the accounts made it sound too bad, but I beg to differ. The waterfall was more than just sketchy, it was dangerous. It wasn't that large but the ice made it near-impossible to climb up. It was lined with rocks that could act as footholds and handholds but in between those footholds and handholds were huge sheets of ice and a tumble would likely have meant serious injury or worse. There was another route we could have taken but it was also nearly vertical: a sheet of iced-over snow that we would have had to climb up and that option looked like it posed more of a risk so we decided to try to make our way up the waterfall. I went first, slowly and carefully clawing my way up. I held onto tree branches and willed them to hold the entirety of my weight, twice. I was shaking, the entire time I wished I was wearing a helmet, I wanted to turn back but I was now at a point that going back down seemed just as dismal so I climbed up and after a struggle I found myself at the top of the waterfall. Chelsea followed. Alex was third but he wasn't feeling confident that he could replicate Chelsea's and my moves. We both urged him to not do anything he wasn't comfortable doing. It is better to turn back than to risk injury. Alex agreed. He said he would wait at the bottom of the waterfall for us while we visited Sky Pond.
Chelsea and I quickly reached Lake of Glass and it is easy to see how the lake earned its name. The lake was completely frozen, flat, and void of any snow. It looked like a mirror, perfectly reflecting the mountains surrounding it. We made our way across and followed a faint trail that lead to Sky Pond. All of the sudden Chelsea said "there's Alex!" Sure enough, Alex was making his way across Lake of Glass! We waited for him to catch up and then continued hiking as a group once again.
Finally, finally, after a year and a half of dreaming, two hours of hiking, and a half an hour crawling up a waterfall, we made it to Sky Pond! The wind was whipping and my face was frozen but I was grinning from ear to ear! The scene was captivating: Sharkstooth glowing in the late afternoon light, the frozen lake shattered with cracks, and nary another human in sight. Despite the wind and the cold we stayed and stood in awe of the wintry mountain landscape.
Finally, we decided if we wanted to make it back to the trailhead before sunset we should head back. We began our descent.
On the way down we decided to skip the waterfall and instead descended down the steep snowy section we avoided on the way up. It turned out to be much easier going down this way than trying to climb down the waterfall and we made it to Loch Vale in what seemed like no time. After Loch Vale is another steep section of trail that so many people decide to slide down it isn't so much a trail anymore as it is a chute!
We made it back to the trailhead at 5pm, just as the sky was lighting up orange, yellow, and pink. I was so exhausted, physically and mentally, from the hike that I headed straight for the car to warm up and relax!